|The Plaza Hotel|
Walking from the historic Plaza Hotel to the equally historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, with stops at points of interest nearby, is so easy that the stroll can be accomplished in dress shoes or in the highest of high heels. Indeed, fancy shoes would be appropriate, considering the dressed-up venues along the way, if only for the sake of a little play-acting.
As anyone who has ever studied My Fair Lady or Breakfast at Tiffany's knows, affecting membership in the wealthy classes requires a few props and a tweak of the accent. Visitors may also want to tuck in their shirts. Or not. Even if you don't dress up, act like you own the place.
I've been curious of late to see if the Plaza Hotel has regained any of its older flair, being one of those people more than disappointed with its renovation. As a member of the shabby genteel, I can state with some assurance that the old hotel is lost, and a recent visit did not help allay my fears.
A great hotel needs a great hustle and bustle in its lobbies and a rapid movement in and out of revolving doors - many people at the hotel desks, people sitting in the lobby chairs, families waiting on the late ones so they can go to the museum, a concierge explaining availability of tickets to a Broadway play, business people heading to the bar, and so on. The whole place should smell of old roses, a variety of perfumes, mildew, and cigar smoke from fifty years ago. The Plaza, which once had everything going for it, is lacking in these areas.
The hotel, though seriously gutted of its Old World ambiance, at least now has Todd English's Food Hall, a fairly interesting market that offers a variety of foods and counter service. The handsome Boston celebrity chef has brought us a wine bar, a place for charcuterie, a cheese and dessert bar, a pasta bar, and a nice three-quarter-sided dining counter for seafood. Even if some of the market items are available at any New York grocery store, the counter space is welcome, especially for light fare and a glass of wine. I can see the Food Hall working really well in the holiday season. For those who remember the old Plaza and miss the wonderful feeling of its lobby, I recommend revisiting the space through the cinematic magic of movie rentals.
We're looking for the smell of old hotel lobbies, the kind of thing that should be sprayed into new hotels to make them more authentic, so we'll press on with our walk. We'll walk south on Fifth Avenue to 57th Street and turn east, stopping to look at the charming window display at Louis Vuitton in honor of the great French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue. This designer homage to the photographer, best known for his youthful images of Paris, celebrates the enduring whimsicality of the Eiffel Tower, especially the sort of luggage it takes to get there.
|Borders/ Ritz Tower|
|E. 57th and Lexington|
This stretch of the avenue, from here down to 42nd Street, is wonderful for architecture, too. Among the attractions of the built environment, look for the Central Synagogue, the Citicorps Center (with its sunken public plaza), the Miami-like Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel, and across the street, the Art Deco General Electric Building (once the RCA Victor Building). Notice the Art Deco sign for the Subway on the south side, and while there, take a walk over to Park Avenue to see St. Bartholomew's Church (or "St. Bart's," as it's affectionately known), one of the city's most ornate churches.
|General Electric Building|
For those for whom lingering in hotel lobbies may be too old school, I suggest a walk to the Roger Smith Hotel, an arts-friendly hotelier, and an elevator ride to its terrace bar on the 16th floor, Henry's Rooftop Bar. It's open Monday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. There, looking out over an old working section of the city, it's possible to have a drink and contemplate what's new in old Manhattan, and how, back in the day, they didn't have such clean air and so many rooftop bars.
Back on ground level, it's easy to find your way home via Grand Central Terminal. Pick up cooked meals to go at the Grand Central Market. At the end of such a walk, everything smells so good. Who knew such a glamorous walk would begin and end at a food court?
View From the Plaza Hotel to Grand Central Terminal in a larger map
Before going home, look at the Graybar Building in the late blue light of the closing day. Isn't it beautiful?
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple made with the iPhone 4 camera.